A Dramatic Interlude
Despite the issues that plagued the building, St Michael’s was host to two lavishly-appointed religious dramas in the 1950s. The first, Henri Ghéon’s The Marriage of St. Francis to Lady Poverty, was directed by John Lindsay. The set consisted of painted tapestries loaned by Canterbury Cathedral (a dramatic centre since its 1935 premiere of Murder in the Cathedral), as well as other elements borrowed from Glyndeboune.1
This production attracted interest from West End stars, necessitating an additional late-night performance to allow actors to attend after appearing in their own shows. This “small but distinguished” audience included Jean Forbes-Robertson and Paul Scofield. The latter was so taken by the space that he expressed his interest in taking part in any future productions, though sadly this never came to pass. However, the performance was revisited in March 1951, and the same director put on Gheon’s Nativity play in three acts that December.
It does not seem that this was the end of St Michael’s connection to the theatre. In November 1958, pupils at the Church Primary School had a talk about St Michael from the Secretary of the Actors Church Union, and that Christmas they received the gift of a large new crib set designed by Mr J Hutchinson-Scott, a West End costume and scene designer whose set designs graced three out of four plays on at the West End at that time.2 St Michael’s and the Parish of Old St Pancras would continue to have ties to the theatre, with clergy maintaining ties to the Actor’s Church Union as recently as the Noughties and with Fr Bruce Batstone of St Mary’s Somers Town acting as chaplain for the Gielgud Theatre. Back in the 1950s, however, it seems likely that the continuing flurry of expensive works required by the building meant the church was for the moment unable to spare the effort to capitalise on this theatrical potential.
Header image: Marriage of St Francis with Lady Poverty, Stefano di Giovanni [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Original.
- Parish Magazine, May 1950 ↩
- Another of his designs, now in the V&A collection. ↩